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In the “old days,” (about 20-30 years ago), my VP’s of marketing used to come to me for approval on major marketing campaigns. In those days, direct mail/direct marketing was still a primary communication channel. Marketing campaigns could be pretty expensive, there was design, printing, postage (they were always stamped because people opened stamped mail more then metered and trashed bulk mail). Getting/developing the right list was critical–it was harder to get good contacts/addresses, and because of the expense, marketing wanted to make sure they were targeting precisely the right people, not wasting mailings on people that weren’t in the campaign sweet spot.

As a result of this expense, I would always challenge the marketing team, “Is this the best way to spend this money? Could we spend it differently to get a better result? What is the impact if we fail to achieve our goals?” The marketing teams were always relatively thoughtful because these campaign costs were a relatively large part of their budget. Plus the results had an impact on their success for new budget requests.

Fast forward to today, everything is electronic (though some direct mail is making a comeback because it stands out as different). As a result, everything is free—or near free. As a result, behaviors in marketing and sales have changed. Because we have no printing costs, no postage, handling, we can implement campaigns with virtually no budget impact. We can send things to thousands or millions of people and the incremental cost is virtually zero. We can send things often as we want, or with as many campaigns as we want to as many people as we want.

In the old days, I might have gotten an informational piece maybe once a month–and I was a C level guy, so I was on everyone’s target list. Today, everyone wants to communicate with me daily, often several times a day. Whether it’s relevant or not, they want to reach out. And because it costs virtually nothing to touch me and millions of others, we can do it as much as we want. And because it’s free, they want to communicate with me as much as possible.

As a result, much of the thoughtfulness, design, testing that I used to see in marketing campaigns back then, is non existent. People don’t understand when I pose the questions I posed to my old marketing teams. Yeah, I know people supposedly do A/B testing, but if they are, the results aren’t clear in the 100’s of legitimate marketing messages I get, daily.

In the old days, response rates, “opens” used to be in the teens or even higher–at least for first class mail campaigns. But still on a cost per response basis, the cost was dear so my marketing teams tried to be thoughtful about who, what, when, how, how frequently they conducted campaigns.

Today, response rates have fallen to fractions of percents–not to worry, we can just ramp the volume/frequency up by 10, 100, 1000 times to get the numbers we need. After all the cost is near zero. (As a side note, there is a new cost or burden, unfortunately, that’s borne by the victims–I mean recipients of our outreach.)

It causes me to reflect. How would things change, if each electronic outreach cost $0.50–or whatever the cost of a first class stamp is in your country? Would we still be sending the same volumes? Would we rethink our strategies? Would we be more careful about what we sent, to who, the likelihood of their responding and acting?

Would our results be better because the costs were forcing us to be more thoughtful about what we are doing? Would we actually be accomplishing more by doing less?

If I were a CRO, CMO, or CEO, I might consider imposing a “tax” on every electronic communication sent by marketing or sales. Each email, each social exchange, each tweet (well maybe I’d use postcard rates for tweets and texts). I would ask that each program be justified on the basis of $0.50 per outreach per person.

I suspect we might accomplish more and the customers might be consuming more.

And then there are the phones. In the old days, a local phone call cost……… A long distance phone call cost……..